Nepal | Mustang 2013 | 2: Trek Kagbeni to Shyangboche

Mustang: Kagbeni to Shyangboche

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Kathmandu to Jomson

We have to take two flights to get from Kathmandu to Jomson and the start of our trek. The first is from Kathmandu to Pokhara where we stay a small hotel near the lake. The once lovely Pokhara has become a rather cheesy tourist resort and China has plans for an international airport and hotel development. On the early morning of day 2 we are due to fly to Jomson but the weather has been bad and no flights have run for three days. We wait at the airport with several other groups all hoping to get a seat on the small planes that are waiting for the weather to clear. A message comes from Jomson that the landing strip is clear of cloud and one flight leaves. The idea is that we wait to hear if they get through - there’s a tricky zone halfway where the cloud can gather - then suddenly we get a shout to run down the runway and jump on the next plane - which taxis off the moment the door closes. A tiny plane with 18 seats, the flight lasts 20 minutes with views of the Annapurnas. We bank steeply to land between the mountains at which point we start understand why they can’t always get through. Very dramatic, very exciting, but less than two years ago a plane crashed into the hillside. We walk out of the airport straight on to the main street of Jomson and the Lodge where we meet our porters.

Jomson to Kagbeni

I have a mission to find the local Amchi (traditional Tibetan doctor) at the Hotel and say hello from a friend in the UK. He’s not here but I show a photo to his sister. Maybe we’ll catch him in a fortnight. At the Lodge our bags are divided among the porters. We flinch at the weights but they seem unconcerned. Time to trek. It’s a four hour walk along the slow, wide, silty Kali Gandaki river to Kagbeni where we spend our first night at the New Annapurna Lodge, the ‘luxury’ night. Leaves are strewn in the corridors, to hide the smell, keep away flies? I don’t know. I can’t resist the charms of a Tibetan girl selling jewellery and buy a bone bracelet called a mala. There’s an old monastery in the village and we sit in on evening prayers. Monks play volleyball in the courtyard.

Kagbeni to Chele

In the morning our guide, Kancha, sorts the permits at the check point while we wander the charming old lanes of Kagbeni, then we set off into Upper Mustang and the trek proper. The path is set back from the river, halfway up the hillside. We get our first clear view of snow covered Nilgiri and see flocks of goats running down to the river. At the confluence of rivers, where the road branches off to Muktinath, the bridge has been washed away so it’s time for some boulder hopping. On top of a small plateau before Tangge we stop at a teahouse adjacent to a walled apple orchard, which seems an unlikely scheme. The walls keep out the goats and they expect their first crop in five years. The teashop is run by an ambitious Tibetan girl called Imra, which apparently means ‘love’. Tangge’s a beautiful, almost deserted old village with narrrow lanes on a bluff overlooking the river with wonderful chortens painted with grey, ochre, white, black and red mineral colours - our first true taste of Mustang. Women are washing clothes at the edge of the village beneath a small hill crowned by a conical building where incense is smoking and a lama is chanting prayers.

The eroded mountains get more dramatic and as we approach Chhusang we see meditation caves high up above the river in vertical fluted cliffs of red stone. There’s a guest house with many windows and good rooms opening onto an earthen balcony, but today we’re just here for lunch. The village is next to a side river and in the afternoon we have to board a tractor to cross over before we start a long walk on a stony track down the narrowing valley. There’s a narrow gap in the massive red rock face that faces us. I think when the Kali Gandaki is low it’s psssible to continue through the gap, but our only option is to cross the river on two metal bridges before a steep climb up to the village of Chele and our room for the night. Higher mountains are half seen through low cloud. The Guest House is opposite the ‘main square’ and a collction of small stupas and wall of prayer wheels. Donkeys are being herded through the narrow lanes. On the roof overlooking the river we talk to the village’s two teachers, one here solely to teach Hindi. They have three pupils.

Chele to Shyangboche

In the morning there’s a glorious climb up a path cut into the hillside above a deep narrow ravine. A long suspension bridge crosses to a village on the far side. There are two small passes and spectacular views of Nilgiri before we drop down to the small hamlet of Samar. As we approach Samar two men are carrying out trays of small votive offerings made from ghee and tsampa; they arrange them on the grass by some small flat topped stupas. We have tea and biscuits in the dark backroom at the beautiful Himal Lodge guest house; a couple of men are flattening tin cans by a stream. The way out the village takes you past a row of copper prayer wheels and under a gateway stupa, from the ceiling hangs a goats head painted in red, yellow and grey vertical stripes. The early morning cloud has lifted and the afternoon is warming up, we soak our hats in the many streams we cross, into one of which I fall. As the cloud lifts it reveals wonderful views of the mountains to the east. Undulating walks and we arrive at Bhena. We sit on red plastic chairs watching the hens by the water pump while waiting for lunch of egg and chips.

A long climb to another pass, I give licorice allsorts to two young porters carrying large oblong yellow packs labelled Dump 1 and Dump 2. The pass is decorated with long strings of prayer flags and reveals great views of Mustang, we feel elated. Lammergeyers circle overhead; a herd of goats invades the path; we strike up with a Spanish group and begin the descent to our lodge at Shyangboche. The Guest House has a layout that is starting to become familiar, around the open courtyard rooms there’s a kitchen where the local crew congregate, a carpeted sitting room with low tables surrounded by benches carpeted with Tibetan rugs and cushions. Wooden stairs lead up to a balcony and the bedrooms. There’s a basic shower and a toilet on the ground floor. The garden doubles up as a campsite and has a nicer toilet! Kancha encourages Graham to try and phone Imra at the tea house but there’s no connection. A Spanish group is short of time because of delays with their flight, they’ll have to walk fast and curtail their route.

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